Starting Tuesday, all third through 10th grade students statewide will start their last round of the Alaska Measures of Progress and Alaska Alternate assessments.
State administrators and educators still question the relevancy of test results, concerns which prompted Mike Hanley, former Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, to end the contract with the testing vendor three years early, but are expecting at least a little more applicable information this year.
“The assessment and data available is not really designed to determine individual student growth from year to year, which is really desired, but we hope to see more students ‘meeting the standards’ by grade level than (we) did the previous year,” said Pegge Erkeneff, school district spokesperson. “That will help us determine if implemented adjustments made a difference.”
She said the school district is looking at this year’s assessments as a way to gauge growth on the district and individual school levels.
More than 5,000 students locally will take the AMP test at all but one of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s 43 sites, with the exception being Paul Banks Elementary, and 32 students with qualifying cognitive deficiencies will take an alternate assessment called the Dynamic Learning Maps, Erkeneff said. There are paper tests available for students that need a large print, as well as a Braille version. Those in grades four, eight and 10 will take the new science portion of the test.
Implementing the new section has created some difficulties.
“The science addition has reduced the availability of computers or labs for other purposes during the test window,” Erkeneff said.
Other issues that caused kinks in 2015 have been alleviated.
The majority of students taking the test and those who administer it won’t have to learn a new program this year, said Natalie Kant, Skyview Middle School counselor. The assessments are taken entirely online, eliminating the tedious work of tracking and counting test booklets, she said.
“It easily cut my assessment work load by at least half almost, maybe even three-fourths of the amount of time I am used to,” Kant said.
Small revisions made since the first round will help too.
In 2015, every one of the school’s nearly 400 students were given a different password to log in to their Language Arts, science and math tests, and a new code for each of the four test stages that are taken within each of the three tests, Kant said. This year every student shares the same password for each of the four stages, although there are still different passwords for each stage, which will likely shave some time off, she said.
Students can take as much time as they need to complete the three tests, but have to finish a stage once they start it, Kant said. For some students it is healthier to take breaks each day, and go at a slower but steady pace, she said.
“I believe the kids that take their time and do their best are going to get the best scores,” Kant said.
Students are measured on a scale of one to four for the Language Arts, math and science tests. A student that scores levels three or four indicates they are meeting standards, and students that score levels one or two are partially meeting standards.
School district administrators, along with those throughout the state, should expect reports to be delivered electronically in late June, said Margaret MacKinnon, DEED’S director of Assessment and Accountability. Physical copies will be mailed to the 54 public school districts to send out to parents in early July, she said.
Kant said she would prefer if the results were available to students before the start of the summer. She and Skyview Principal Sarge Truesdell are looking forward to getting what data they can out of the results this year.
Being able to correctly interpret the data makes a big difference, Kant said. The results from the AMP test were just as effective as the Standards Based Assessments, or SBAs, previous test’s results in placing students in the classes that would best suit their skill levels, and identifying which kids may need academic interventions, she said.
Truesdell said he found the AMP results to be less applicable than the SBAs, but that they were still meaningful in helping the school staff gauge how well there are addressing student’s needs.
He said he wasn’t expecting perfection with the first round of results released in 2015, but eventually hopes the state will find a more consistent way of evaluating student achievement.
“The district believes in data and understands that some data sources are more useful than others,” Erkeneff said.
This is the last year the tests are “planned to be given,” MacKinnon said. The department of education is currently preparing to start the search for a new vendor for tests that would be administered in 2017, she said.
In a previous Clarion interview, Hanley said there is no gaurentee that a new replacement test will be found by the time Alaska needs to fulfill its federally mandated standardized testing requirements for the 2016-2017 school year. It would take time for a vendor to develop an entirely new test, but off-the-shelf tests may be an option, he said.
The process will begin with a public Request for Proposals, which will allow interested companies apply for the open contract.
“We are currently consulting with district superintendents and other stakeholders to determine the priorities for the new tests,” MacKinnon said.
The last day for testing in the school district is April 29.
Reach Kelly Sullivan firstname.lastname@example.org.